Tag Archives: Citra

Malicious Mercy 8

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I’d cue the spinning newspaper headlines, but a supervillain kidnapping a superhero isn’t that big of news. And who reads newspapers anymore? Ricca’s moved to an all-digital format for the news. For those who prefer a hands-on approach, a digital ghost copy serves just as well. So, aside from the heroes at the Master Academy, there weren’t really too many people giving a shit about my love life or capture of Venus.

That’s probably a condition you share with the rest of this world, dear reader. Hey, trust me, I feel stupid too. I got played, in the seat of my own power.

I held off on visiting Venus until I had answers. It’s a good reason. It has nothing to do with any confusing feelings that I might have left over which, once again, nobody wants to hear about.

Answers came thanks to Pagan. The Intel chief was enthusiastic about understanding the events of the past couple few weeks. The weak point turned out to be a foursome of spies in particular.

Pagan had the footage for me and everything. Yeah, cameras saw what happened, but nobody watches all the cameras. I can’t, that’s for sure. An AI might manage it, but I’m the last person who should be programming a brand new mind. On the day in question, Medusa visited a tailor. One of the better ones, too. The man in the playing card shirt walked along casually behind her as if he wasn’t a superhero.

Medusa went into the building. The guy did too, briefly. He came out a couple minutes later, texting away, looking like he was feeling his pulse. He must have had the same type of transceiver we removed from Venus. We gassed her one night long enough to have it extracted from her neck. It’s got the range for a city, but what made it so clever and undetectable is how it’s built. With no pressure applied, no power reaches the transceiver. The battery can only power it up to send and receive messages when someone presses on it. It keeps me from detecting it unless it’s actually in use, and they have very simple programming meant to try and keep them communicating only to one another.

Venus appeared soon afterward, as did their larger friend who resembles a minotaur. Both were being tailed by agents. Here’s where the mistake happens, and it’s a big one. The first team of spies spot the second team of spies when they’re stopped watching the heroes talk outside. After an argument, video shows the spies and the spies who are spying on the spies got into an argument. The argument turnd into a fight, spy versus spy. This attracted the attention of the heroes who beat the snot out of them, stole all their clothes except for underwear, tied them up, and tossed them in a dumpster. Then they used cable ties they happen to keep on them to tie the dumpster closed.

After that, the heroes had time to go into the tailors. When they left, Venus had taken Medusa’s place and costume. The minotaur carried out a lumpy black garment bag like you’d use to hold a costume or suit. The spies didn’t see it because, again, they were beat up, tied up, and laying in a dumpster. Unfortunately, my spies are competent enough to free themselves upon waking up from a beatdown. They untied themselves and sawed through the cable tie on the dumpster lid before they could end up added to the biochar.

Biochar is part of our waste management here. We turn a lot of our waste and food trash into this stuff called biochar. Really good for plants and stuff. The cult that grows so much of our food loves it, along with anyone else growing stuff around. We’ve got shitloads of the stuff going to Mu, and we’re trying to open up the Americna market. The only people who want the stuff over there are people obsessed with organics who keep wanting the really crappy stuff made from only wood.

The reason for the big fancy explanation is that the heroes almost accidentally arranged to turn my spies into a nutritional soil additive. It would have been better all the way around. When we didn’t hear back from the spies, Pagan would have known something was up and we might have uncovered the whole mess. Even the spies would probably be better off.

See, it wasn’t great that they let themselves get caught and beat up, or that they had their squabble between spies. The real issue is that none of them informed anybody about it. They agreed to keep it among themselves. Pagan is at least as unhappy as I am. He didn’t give me all the details, but he requested a large number of medical nanomachines. When I asked what he had in mind, he graced me with a lovely explanation,“I trained in the Japanese branch. The Yakuza know how to make amends.”

“Going to make an example of them?” I asked. “I’d very much like if they are not an issue in the future, but it’s crucial that nobody repeat their mistake. I care more about getting the job done than embarrassment. I’m more merciful toward the latter than I am the former.”

“That is completely understood, Empress. I think you would enjoy what I will do. Four rounds of bidding. The loser is the one who bids the fewest fingers. If they fail to provide all the fingers they bid, or all are provided and someone has less than the others, that person loses the round and is punished. The winner of a round gets to sit and watch. The punishment of the final round is truly final.”

“Aren’t you worried everyone will just bid all their fingers each round?” I asked.

He laughed. “I doubt everyone will manage to part with all that they bid. And if they do, it will be a memorable experience for them.”

“You’re an evil bastard,” I told him. “Keep up the great work.”

I mean, I may be slightly toned down as an Empress, but there’s really no moral way to lead a country. I have responsibilities and I don’t like it when people fuck with them.

Which leads me to my own interrogation. I sat there, across the table from Venus, glaring at her. She smiled at me. “It looks delicious,” she said.

Citra, sitting next to me, spooned an extra helping of the broccoli and mushrooms onto her noodles and turned to address Venus, “It is wonderful to have you join us for this formal dinner prepared by my wife, but I am afraid I do not know if we have met.”

“We have,” Venus said, folding up her napkin into her own lap. She’d been provided a dress for the occasion. “I was impersonating Medusa, but I helped you with the gifts. I’m known to Gecko and everyone else as Venus.”

Citra smiled wide. “You’re the hero my wife is in love with!”

So fucking glad I sent everyone else out of the palace for this confrontation right about then.

Venus looked at me, then laughed at my expression. I can only imagine what such a glare looks like with a bright red blush going on. “No, I’m not,” I said slowly.

“This is wonderful,” Citra said, taking my hand. “Are you two going to stay together?”

“We’re not together,” I told her. “She was lying to me and playing with my trust.”

Like I wasn’t even fucking there, Citra continued, “I want to thank you for your advice with the First Lady of Peru. It was the perfect gift. I think we will have a trade agreement soon.”

“What’s all this trade agreement and gift stuff?” I asked.

Citra turned to finally address me instead of the elephant in the room. “I have the Foreign Director keep me aware of the birthdays of wives of other heads of states. I send them gifts you can only get from the island. Venus helped.”

I closed my eyes and rested my head on my elbow. “Dear, you can’t go letting my nemesis handle the duties you took on you as my consort and wife.”

I heard her lean closer as she teased me. “Oh? You had no problem with her taking on those duties then.”

“Dear, I’m trying intimidate my nemesis,” I told my wife, opening my eyes to look into the foolish grin of the troll I apparently married.

“The Empress Gecko does not wear glitter on her lips to intimidate people,” she responded.

“Wrong!” I said, looking to Venus, who was getting dinner and a show. “I’ve killed people set to Celine Dion. I can wear glitter makeup if I want to!” I totally can. I can leave my friends behind. ‘Cause my friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, then they’re no friends of mine.

Venus coughed away from the table, and took a moment looking down to gather her thoughts. “I’m glad that worked out, Citra. Gecko, relax. You know I know you’ve had a crush on me for years, and you know I’m happy to help.”

Citra held her hands up, palms together like she’d clapped. I held up a hand, “Don’t expect any more help. Venus is the enemy.”

Citra, having gained some sort deathwish, continued her defiance of me. “Last week she was your snugglebunny, this week she’s the enemy. Next week, she will be a part of our family and you will call her snugglebunny again.”

I pointed a finger at Citra. “That’s enough.” I pointed with another hand at Venus, who was looking down into her own lap, hair falling over her face so I couldn’t see her reactions. “She’s not part of our family. She hates me. I kill people. I killed her boyfriend, twice. I annoyed her, stalked her like a creep. The only reason she hasn’t killed me is because her morals are worth more to her than my life. If I wasn’t some stupid villain for her to pity and throw in jail, she wouldn’t even look at me. I’ll never be good enough for her!” I blinked, thinking back over the last part of that and explaining, “In her eyes.”

I looked between the two women. Citra bowed her head, hiding her feelings behind the neutral expression she’d long since mastered. Venus looked down still for whatever reason. I didn’t know what she was thinking. And, fuck it, at that point I just didn’t care. Even just being here, as herself, she was kicking my ass. I stood up and stormed out, plate in hand because I was hungry and wanted something to do with my mouth right then.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get very far down the hall before growled and smashed the plate and its contents onto the floor. How DARE?! And then to come up and hug me from behind, to nuzzle into the hair at the back of my neck. Well, check out the ovaries on the former maid-turned-Imperial consort, daring to come up behind me and cuddle after that shit in there. After a deep breath, I took her hand and squeezed it for comfort, trying to explain. “You might think it’s cute, but it isn’t. Venus doesn’t like me at all. This is just toying with me. Tempting me with ideas like she does, because she’s happy to put up with her nightmare if it means saving someone. That’s all I am. She’s my weakness, because I love her, and I’m just another random person. I just wanted to get rid of the obsession. Great Jupiter’s sphincter piercing, woman, after what you pulled in there, I’m glad she’s probably escaped and got halfway across the island by now.”

I went ramrod straight when the woman holding me spoke, because it wasn’t Citra’s voice. “I’m not going anywhere yet, snugglebunny,” Venus said, holding me tight to her.

“Fuck you,” I responded.

“That’s no way to talk about your new partner,” she told me.

“Stop it,” I said. “Why are you saying this?”

“Because you need someone to be the angel on your shoulder,” she said.

“I should lock you back up,” I told her.

It was her turn to squeeze my hand. “I think I can get out, and you know I can beat you up. Being here, I’ve seen how much you changed.”

I scoffed, still not turning around. “You want to do this for yourself. Feel good about setting some other lost soul on the ‘right’ path.”

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the vacation and other benefits, but I want to do this for you. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal, but if I am, I can lift you up here with me. I couldn’t do that as Venus, but I think I can as Medusa.”

“You’re just a hero with a plan,” I said, turning around in her arms, my fingers tracing over her soft skin.

“If I wanted to run, you think I would have run to you?” she asked, gracing me with a sheepish smile. “What do you say? Medusa and Gecko, partners in crime?”

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Malicious Mercy 5

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Just because I have an assload of heroes on my island, eyeing my ass, doesn’t mean I’m going to play nice.

It helps that there are all kinds of celebrations going on. I try to do outreach, but I am woefully ignorant about all the holidays over here. They’re gearing up for another big celebration, and one of my Directors I kept around has been running around trying to get things ready for the Lunar New Year, which is especially a big deal among the Chinese population of Ricca. With the Year Of The Pig on the way, they’re organizing a massive parade, with some “God Of Fortune” character, dancers, pop girl groups, and dragons. Between my temporary erasure from the timeline, spending time with my family after my return, and all the kidnapping in the United States, it’s hard to keep track of it all. It’s a good thing I pay people to handle some of it for me.

It’s been a good way to keep the heroes’ attention away from me specifically, though I’m sure they’re trying to spy on me. I know, because my spies spying on them told me so, as confirmed by the spies spying on my spies. That one with all the Hawaiian shirts leads me to suspect at least some of the heroes are taking their visit as seriously as it deserves. If I aided that by quietly directing a visiting C-pop girl group to stay in that area and rehearse there, well, it’s on their end to stay vigilant. I’m not doing the heroes’ job for them.

It has been more difficult keeping Medusa away from them. I didn’t set her up in the palace with me and the rest of the family. Maybe it’s because I don’t like her. I think it’s about time I built for guests what my current home was to me: luxurious guest housing. Until then, she’s staying at a safehouse. It’s harder to keep a constant eye on her that way. That means sticking some undercover Security personnel on her. It also meant getting a call from my Security guys that they had moved in and stopped Medusa from beating the crap out of my Director of the Interior.

I was disappointed, so very disappointed, in the Director. I don’t know what he was doing recruiting dancers at a strip club. That’s his business and it’ll probably be a hell of a parade. With him, I just expected better than to get tangled up with someone who appears to be one of the world’s foremost superheroes that his Empress is apparently going to marry. Almost makes me regret how good our medical care is that he won’t even get a scar to remember that decision by.

I’m fine with the Security officers, though. They got a bonus.

But then there’s Medusa. Hungover, horny, frustratingly beautiful Medusa who can’t even beat up a couple of guys in power armor at the same time. She just refuses to be what I want her to be. I have to wonder if it’s me. Am I holding her to too high a standard? Is it somehow wrong to force someone to be their good doppelganger in violation of a lifetime of instinct? Is my obsession with Venus blinding me to the true, but different, potential of her evil double from another dimension?

Nah. The problem’s obviously not me. The problem’s never me. I should have Max up my dosage of whatever he gives me for the PTSD and the other stuff just for considering it.

When she woke up on my couch, her beautiful face drooling all over the cushion, I greeted her with some breakfast spring rolls: scrambled eggs and sausage rolled up in paper-thin lumpia wrapper and fried until light brown on both sides.

She jerked awake from her snores and pulled a pillow over her head. “Oof,” she said before I shoved a roll in her mouth. She sat up then and tried to hit me with the pillow while reaching for the breakfast roll. I pushed the pillow and her hand aside and pulled her into my lap to continue feeding her breakfast while strokin her hair.

She tried to say something around the food in her mouth. I couldn’t make it out over all the muffled noises, so instead I leaned down and whispered, “There, there. Eat up.”

She humored me for one roll before sitting up and backing away from me, then jumping up from the drool she just got on herself. I snorted. “Aren’t bodily liquids the best?”

She wiped at her pants. “What was that?”

“Drool. Don’t worry, it’s yours,” I told her.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better… gimme another of those,” she held out her hand for a roll, so I provided.

“I think you and I haven’t gotten on very well,” I told her.

She didn’t bother to swallow before answering, “You think? You have a hard-on for me, but you’re dumping me in some apartment. When you do want me around, it’s to try and teach me to be Venus. Oh, and your cops beat me up when I tried to have fun.”

Ok, so there’s a chance the problem might have something to do with me, too.

“I think I’m still getting the hang of leadership,” I told her.

She pointed her half-eaten breakfast roll at me, “I don’t want leadership.”

I leaned back and pondered. Medusa sat herself across my lap, helping herself to another roll and my attention in the process. I looked into her eyes, raising an eyebrow as she ate. “You’re too controlled,” she said at last.

I tried not to laugh hard enough for everyone on the island to hear. But, being a wise dictator, I was at least willing to hear her out. When I calmed down, and she’d finished her current roll, she leaned close, chest pressed to mine, and asked, “What would you do if you didn’t have that stick up your ass?”

A couple hours later, I was the middle spoon between Citra and Medusa and reaching over Medusa for the plate of breakfast rolls on the nightstand. Medusa turned to me with a smile. “Mmm, got anything else in mind?”

“Actually…” I said, taking a bite. “Why don’t we go steal something together?”

Citra actually helped us pick out the target. It was fun just shopping around. Targets ranged from tourist traps (such as the Great Wall of China, Maine), to the culturally and historically significant (the cuneiform tablet of the world’s oldest beer recipe), money (the Lost Bitcoin Exchange) and the technologically significant (a prototype anti-gravity car developed by Ferrari).

That last one intrigued me. The latest I or my guys know is that, outside of a few mad scientists with unreliable designs who don’t keep blueprints for fear of others replicating it, are still way behind figuring out anti-gravity. By now, there’s plenty of leftover alien technology after all the invasions, but understanding is a huge limit to recreating it. Imagine if people in the Middle Ages acquired an atomic bomb: they could probably figure out how to use it, possibly even without killing themselves, but could they ever make a new one? Did they even know how to think in order to study it? Could they safely dismantle it? Even if they understood it, what about the tools and processes needed to recreate the materials involved?

Medusa’s desire spoke to a more base one. “Fuck me, I want a flying car!”

I sent her off to a costume tailor in the city to get dressed for success while I researched how best to nab this lovely new aeromobile.

Ferrari finished a public demonstration couple of weeks ago, meaning we’d missed the most dramatic time to grab it. Amazingly, when I reached out to Intel Chief Pagan, he had some a useful message to pass on to me. Someone within Ferrari had reached out to Ricca through our Vatican City consulate offering to provide pass codes and radio frequencies to defeat security at the big demonstration, as well as an unassuming email address to contact to confirm our participation. He had no reason to believe it would interest me more than anything else, and we aren’t prioritizing “stealing cool shit” as a country, so I hadn’t been told.

Even though the demo had come and gone, I sent the address a message. “Give me a location and the car disappears.”

The recipient got back to me within the hour, pointing me to Malta International Airport, the only airport on the Isle of Malta. It surprised me, though. Fort St. Ferrari looms over the city of Birgu on the island. It serves as the fortified repository of Ferrari’s most important research, prototypes, and trade secrets. Plus, the on-site test track features some bitchin’ views for photo ops.

It was a little disappointing that we weren’t just busting in there to take it, but Medusa’s maybe not up to that just yet. I didn’t let her know. Upon her return with a garment bag, I instead swept her up into a cuddle and a kiss. “Good news,” I told her upon breaking the kiss. “No need to spend all day hunting it down. I know exactly where we strike. Plenty of time for more fun…”

She winked. “Maybe later. I’m fucking hungry.”

I guess she’d worked up an appetite. And then some gas. Despite that, she was more than happy to hang out with my daughter when Qiang got in from school. With Medusa looking just like Venus, my kid seemed to get on just fine thinking a teacher from her friend’s school had taken a liking to me.

So it was that the day of the Lunar New Year arrived, and yet we were zipping off through the sky at the inhumanly early hour of 10 AM, Riccan Standard Time. That’s the island’s name for that time zone and any others can go to hell.

The Psycho Flyer came in low and camouflaged, dropping Medusa and I off just outside the airport. We hopped the out fence easily enough and approached tight to a hangar. “They must have been letting someone have a private test,” I guessed as we waited. We’d gotten there early, but only by about ten minutes. One reliable thing about pretty much any other air travel in the world besides my Flyers is that airplanes are late all the time but never early.

We stayed there, Medusa enjoying the weather and myself enjoying Medusa’s outfit. It looked remarkably like Venus’s, but with a different grouping of colors. Instead of the white, gold, and pink of Venus, Medusa wore black, silver, and amber. Venus had swapped to a powered and armored exoskeleton in those same colors some time back, but this outfit looked like pants and a jacket with armored plates in the fabric. Venus’s mask covered her face and even her nose; Medusa’s did all that with wild swirls at the top where all three colors repeated in stripes like the warning coloration of some snakes.

Our anonymous turncoat had provided the details of the plane flying in our experimental flying car. I smiled under my armor and pulled open the door of the little plane, then turned and held out a hand for Medusa. “I’m going to need you to trust me a bit.”

Medusa looked between myself in this small prop craft and the cargo plane coming in for a landing. She hesitated long enough that I began pumping the chorus from the song Umbrella out of my suit’s speakers. With Rihanna assuring her, “Said I’ll always be your friend, took an oath that I’ma stick it out ’til the end,” Medusa blushed, smiled, and took my hand. I pulled her in, busted into the dash, and started that baby up without the key.

The target plane had landed by then, going right by us. It began to taxi around in the direction of a semi truck with a bare trailer on the back. The black horse of the Ferrari logo reared up from the door of the truck. We passed in front of it, my bottom left hand taking the wheel so the top left could give them the bird. Have I mentioned I’m petty? I feel that might have come up once or twice.

Medusa reached over and grabbed my forearm as we headed right for the plane. Seeing us, the pilot tried to turn. We headed right for that low-sitting belly, turning to meet it. Just before impact, I grabbed Medusa and put myself between her and the oncoming collision.

The propeller on our own vehicle made a pretty good attempt at stabbing me in the back, the traitorous son of a gun. Quantifying the pain is also kinda tough. There was the propeller, the engine, the wall of the cargo plane. It all blended together, but Medusa took it much better than I did.

That’s probably why she was so quick to stand up and catch her breath. My 360 display told me there were other people around, most of them down as well. A half dozen, but I still doubted Medusa’s ability. My lungs told me to slow the fuck down and pull them up out of prostate. I tried sitting up and quickly slammed myself back to the floor. My back had decided to clock out early. So, knowing I was going to hate myself, I activated the spinal transceiver meant to keep me going in the event of paralysis.

Nobody could hear me yell when I forced myself to stand, but they might have seen me free a syringe from my belt and free a glove to quickly push the nanomachines and saline into my body. I shaved a glove back on and turned to see someone in coveralls falling. Medusa stomped on the foot of a man in security business casual: trousers, dress shoes, button-up shirt, tie, and holster capable of carrying a holster. She grabbed the gun, dodged a punch, dropped the magazine, ejected the round in the chamber, and beat him in the eye with it. He raised his hands to shield his sensitive, jelly-filled light sensors and she rewarded that caution with a spinning kick that knocked him to the ground.

Another guy in coveralls jumped her from behind. She flipped him over her, then grabbed his head and put him in a hold until he passed out. If anyone else around us was capable of fighting, they didn’t bother trying. I grunted to myself with every step toward the rear of the plane. Medusa ran on ahead, either into a separate room or just around a bunch of wrecked metal caused by our unique boarding action.

I walked after. Step after step, grunt after grunt. One guy in khakis and a polo shirt grabbed a big monkey wrench. Maybe he thought he was sneaky. I turned and caught his arm in midswing. I gave him a few slams into the wall, floor, and ceiling before tugging the tool out of the other tool’s hands and jamming it into his neck. It didn’t take many turns to unscrew his head, but by then I heard the sound of a car engine cranking. I pushed myself through the pain to reach the bay proper and found Medusa behind the wheel of a sleek crimson Ferrari with a low body and four glowing rounded stands in place of wheels.

“Checkit out!” Medusa called, “It makes engine noises still!”

I hobbled over, raised the passenger door that opened up, and settled myself into the front seat. Medusa reached across and patted my arm. With a wink, she flipped a switch and the car rose into the air. Spinning the wheel brought us around to face the rear of the plane and what had once been a functional door. She pushed up on the wheel, moving the steering column forward and bursting out through the door. It dented the hood a bit, too. “That’ll buff out,” she said.

“That’s ok,” I assured her. “I like big buffs and I cannot lie. Now get us home. The only pigs I want to see are the ones in the parade celebrating the Year of the Pig.”

“Oink, oink!” she said, punching the accelerator. The car shuddered and hung in the air.

I opened a channel to the Psycho Flyer. “Hey guys? We need a tow. I think I know why they needed the plane.” I pulled my helmet off then and freed my hair. In front of us, the Psycho Flyer decloaked and began to ease back around us. “Just one thing left to steal.”

She turned toward me. “What’s that?”

A kiss.

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Malicious Mercy 4

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For all my teasing, I didn’t think Venus would show. I know, I know, I’m trying to piss her off. Anyone can see it, and she’s used to it. As much as I insult her intelligence for keeping me alive, she really isn’t so brainless. Medusa didn’t consider it. I think, like me, she’s been too willing to take their honor and principal for idiocy. Medusa’s a disappointment like that. And Venus might have outdone her.

I was playing with Qiang in her new playset that’s totally not an obstacle course and starter lair. She might someday realize she can use it as such, but it’s a fun thing for her to enjoy until then. I should really just let her be a kid and let me be a parent, but I don’t think I know how. I got a call in, which almost caused me to drop the water guns I was shooting at my girl while I crossed the monkey bars. Extra arms means extra awesome, but being Empress means I gotta hang in there sometimes.

“This Empress Gecko,” I said.

“This is the Customs Authority, Empress. We have an unusual arrival we felt we should alert you about?”

“If I tell you I’m spending time with my daughter, does it become any less urgent?” I asked.

“Your new fiance just arrived with a lot of superheroes,” said the voice on the other side of the line.

I instantly tapped into the cameras around the airport. They were all standing around the tarmac, a group of twenty or so teen or adult supers.

“Empress, would you like us to deny entry to the superheroes?” asked the Customs Authoritarian on the other end of the line.

“No… they can come through, but there’ll have to be a thorough inspection before they enter,” I smiled, thinking of some of our protocols.

“Going through every piece of luggage?” asked the Customs agent.

“Uh huh.”

“Full body scans?”

“Yep.”

“Tearing up their plane looking for smuggled contraband.”

After a moment, he whispered the final part with his own glee at the thought of enacting this protocol. “Cavity searches?”

I was going to confirm the order, but I heard a scuffle on the other side, then Venus grabbed the phone. “You are not going to stick any gloves inside any of our bodies, Gecko!”

“Relax, Boopsie. I was going to have other people do that for me. I don’t know what you could be bringing to my little island. You know how violent you heroes get, constantly blowing stuff up and fighting people in the streets.”

“We fight crime,” she said.

“You’re on my island now. I decide what’s crime. But I’m still checking the luggage and the plane. If you remember, I’ve already had one group sneak a deadly infection and power dampening collars onto this island. Collars like I know you yourself now have. Unless you seek to have the full force of the Ricca’s law enforcement used against you, you will comply.”

“Fine, but only if you agree not to steal our stuff,” she said.

I scoffed over the phone. “First you show up unannounced, now you demand VIP treatment without even bribing us? So inconsiderate. I can hardly believe I’m going to marry you.”

I hung up on her, but kept an eye out, bringing up some of the Security guys. They already had pretty good armor in their uniforms, but I had them assemble in riot gear. That included grenade launchers and the “thunder tower” spikes. Cool shit. Stand them up on the ground and they form an electrical arc between them to cut people off from going a certain direction. Some of the crowd control grenades do something similar for a second in a smaller area. That’s less about containment and more about stunning folks. My favorite part is the shield. It’s normally attached to the rear of the torso armor, but can be deployed with a release that swings it overhead on the end of an arm. The Security people retain full use of their hands and get a shield rated for small arms fire short of anything that can crack a safe.

My power-armored infantry were on standby in case they were needed. The heroes better hope it doesn’t come down to that.

After making those arrangements, I hugged Qiang and told her I needed to go see to some more business involving her old school. She hopped up and down. “I wanna come! Is it Kayla? I wanna see Kayla again.”

“No, sweetie, Kayla’s not with them. She’s probably back in Empyreal City.”

She calmed down then, her face falling. “Oh.”

“Still want to come with me, or do you want to play on your own?” I asked.

“I think I want to paint,” she said.

I patted her on the head. “Paint away then, dearheart. I’ll tell them you said ‘hi’.” She blew me a kiss as she ran into the palace. I dislike her affinity for the heroes, but at least I know she’s capable of stealing hearts.

I didn’t bother with armor and the outfit I was in was a more functional form of regal dress with some sturdy leggings, so perfectly suited to keep anyone from catching a peek when I jumped on one of the personal use rockets outside the palace. It shot me through the air, hair and sleeves streaming behind me. Minutes later, I stepped into the airport with my Security officers flanking me.

Venus and her bunch didn’t look amused. She tapped her foot, arms akimbo. “You’re late.”

“I took a rocket here, how can I be late?” I asked, shaking my hair out.

“We saw. You took too long after landing it. What do you have planned?” she asked.

I rolled my eyes. “You always assume the worst about me. If you must know what took so long, I was parallel parking.” I paid no mind to the shaking helmets of some of the Security personnel on either side of me as they tried not to laugh.

“A rocket?” asked a guy in a Hawaiian shirt with playing card designs on it and a lei around his neck. My HUD reminded me he was called Wildcard.

Smiling, I dangled a key fob in one hand and raised it while pressing a button. My guys lost it at the beep from the parking lot, and even some of the heroes joined in. The tension was just gone at that point.

“Why are you here?” I asked Venus.

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re getting married to my double. Don’t I get an invitation?”

“As if this involves you?” I asked. “And twenty of your closest friends.”

“What better way to show we’re no threat than to house the wedding party?” she asked. “Come on, I enjoy a good wedding. I missed your first one, and no way am I going to let you marry my evil twin sister without keeping an eye on her.”

Lady boner activated. The image of Venus watching me and her evil twin sister wasn’t the reason why, though it followed closely on the heels.

“Fine,” I said, pointing at her. “I’ll tell you exactly where you can stick these masked crusaders!”

A half hour later, I walked into the middle of the housing division used by the supervillains when we met and established VillainNet. They remained temporary housing for villains passing through or waiting out heat, but most were empty. “Here. Here’s where you can stick them.”

Venus and the others looked around, not really objecting. “You surprise me still,” she said. “I thought you were going to show us to the resident proctologist.”

“As careful as I am, I’d never pull a plan like that out of my ass,” I responded. I turned to her in particular as all her friends spread out. “I could kick y’all out at any time, you know.”

She smiled. “Yeah, but then you’d be publicly expelling your fiance and her friends from the island. I don’t know what you’re trying to pull, but I’m guessing that’s not what you want to get out.” She winked. “I know better than to think your weird stalker harassment doesn’t happen on its own. You’re up to something that you’re using me to cover for. To answer your question back at the airport, that’s why this involves me.”

Clever woman. She’s right that I’m up to something and that it involves her. I wonder if she knows how much it involves her, because that could better explain why she pulled this stunt. “I prefer not to think of myself as your harassing stalker,” I said, feigning that I was wounded.

“You can prefer whatever you want,” Venus said, the tone of her voice making a lie out of the smile on her face. “Mind if I have a word with my doppelganger?”

I patted her on the head. “She’s busy, I’m afraid. Spa day and beauty treatments. Have to get ready for the big day.”

“Right. I’ll be here then, with all my friends who know exactly where I am at all times,” she said, walking off to join the others in picking out a house.

I, on the other three hands, headed over to the Institute of Science and double parked my rocket. I skipped in, humming to myself, finding the turn of events interesting and advantageous. I was still skipping when the doctors showed me to Medusa’s recovery room where she was testing out her new form.

I bounded in the door. “Guess what?!”

Medusa was starring down at her six pack. “Oh my god, my abs!”

“That’s not what,” I said. “I thought you’d be more interested in the powers, anyway.”

“I am, they’re awesome, but have you seen my fucking abs?” she pointed down to them. In addition to treatment to transform her into a homo machina the same as Venus has been made, the doctors used the nanomachines to get rid of revealing scars and to bring Medusa’s fat and musculature to match with Venus. “What’s your good news?” she asked.

“We don’t have to plan an actual wedding for one thing,” I said. Which was great. Citra’s been a bit cold about that lately. I guess that’s how you describe it when your wife finds out you pretended to ask another woman to marry you so she comes back from college to slap you upside the face. On the plus side, she’s enjoying her economics course and is thinking of trying out for the debate team.

“Good,” Medusa said, about the scrapped wedding instead of my wife troubles. She dropped her shirt and picked up a cell phone, letting her newfound abilities merge her nervous system with it. The screen flashed as she tried messing around with it.

“Yeah,” I followed up with. “Because Venus and a shitload of heroes are here to attend it.”

Medusa frowned and tried to set the phone down. She waved her hand a bit to get it free. “That sounds like we have to fake it for them, doesn’t it?”

I took her hand and tugged gently, easing the phone away from Medusa without hurting her. “No. We just have to swap you and Venus while she’s here. We toss her in a Flyer, drop her off with your Taskforce Manticore buddies, and find some excuse for you and the other heroes to leave the island. This way, we don’t have to hunt her down for the switch while tricking people into thinking your here.”

She nodded. “Fine, whatever. Just as long as the one who reads minds isn’t here.”

I thought back to it. “Huh, yeah it is odd Psychsaur wasn’t here, but that doesn’t matter now.” I poked Medusa in the head. She squinted and pushed my finger away. “Your new powers make you tougher to read that way,” I explained.

She walked up to me, wrapping her arms around my neck. “Show me what I can do, sugarmomma. I feel great. Come on, let’s go tear something up together.”

Sploo- aww who am I kidding? She’s still no Venus.

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New World War 6

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“I’ve been looking over this book and it’s quite the magical artifact itself. Both science and magic seek understanding of the nature of the universe and manipulation of its forces, and eventually to overcoming the limits of the universe. I found the ritual he used and it’s powerful, like a trebuchet or blockbuster bombs. But crude, imprecise, and flawed.”

Mobian led me up the steps of his ship to the platform with the control panel. “Didn’t these steps curve differently before?” I asked.

“I change the interior sometimes. I have control over spacetime in this ship.” He pulled a lever. An image appeared over everyone, showing Earth, then a bunch of copies of Earth, then moved all of them over to the right and showed lines trailing from them to the left. He also showed a little orb next to one Earth. “Time travel is normally about moving along the time stream, the past or the inevitable futures.”

“The future’s not supposed to be set in stone,” Marivel said from below us.

“It can’t be,” Blackstone said.

“Chaos theory’s a bitch,” I called down to them.

“Quite,” Mobian said. “It’s possible to travel to the past and alter it, but that causes problems.”

“The Universe Divide is a rough barrier to pass through,” I noted.

Mobian continued. One Earth then slid on top of another, covering it and its timeline. “Yes. And that will create problems.”

“It hasn’t yet,” Blackstone said. He pointed to Marivel. “Things are better than ever.”

“I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is so wrong,” Mobian said as Marivel stepped away from Blackstone.

“Yeah,” she said. “Who are you really?”

“I’m Doug, for real. Just a Doug from a worst Earth. Things went wrong there,” he answered

I pointed to Mobian. “The Claw, dead. Ricca no longer on the warpath and all the brainwashed supers free. Empyreal City not ruled by Spinetingler. Mot dead instead of eating people. The Fluidics, all gone. Did I miss anything?”

Images appeared of all of them as I called them out. “Some would see your assassination of the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation as preferable,” Mobian added.

“They’ve killed millions,” Marivel said, looking at Blackstone. “Why did you cause that?”

“I didn’t cause it,” he said. “She did!” he pointed to me. “She killed my mom and dad.”

“We’re getting too much into statistics here,” I said. “Most people here aren’t better off, and you’re not her husband. Just a lookalike from another dimension trying to live his life.”

“It’s the way my life was meant to be,” Blackstone said. I cringed to myself.

Marivel squared up with him. “I’m not an accessory to my husband’s life. My Dougie loves me!”

“Ever meet Kant?” I asked Mobian. He shook his head no. “He’d be perfectly fine with a discussion like this taking forever… feels like we’ve been here for days already… but that’s not what I’m here for.”

I hopped down to the lower floor and walked over to Marivel. She’s such a skinny little thing. She can’t be healthy. One good fall, or twist, and her poor little head might snap off. And if that happened, what reason would Blackstone have to stay? He might try to just take the ritual back to now, but I like my odds of taking him if he tries that. Then we just try with a different mage.

“If I may interject with a compromise,” Mobian said. “The Earth you rightly belong to is not destroyed. It is temporally displaced, but this can’t last forever. There will be temporal bleed. There are already signs of it. Gecko’s presence is one effect. Others are more difficult to detect unless you are as intimately familiar with the workings of time as I am. They will get worse. People will have memories of both timelines as they merge. That could get rather ugly if it doesn’t go smoothly. You ever seen two people mashed together by temporal displacement? You would throw up your stomach.”

“What’re you thinking?” I asked.

Mobian showed moved one Earth off the other on his hologram. “It’s simple. Knowing this is an alternate universe imposed on our own, we should be able to use the ritual to reverse the two. My craft can guide the ritual so that we don’t displace a third universe. The timeline will be a mess for the period the two were one and the same, but you or I could bring Blackstone back to it as himself.”

“What about my Doug?” Marivel asked.

Mobian gestured with a roll of his hand. “You would still have your husband as himself, and then this one would show up as a separate entity.”

“But then she wouldn’t be mine,” Blackstone said.

I rolled my eyes. “She was never yours. This situations’s fucked up. You don’t always get what you want. Welcome to life.”

“Is there one of me on your world?” Marivel asked.

“Probably,” Mobian and I said at the same time.

Marivel looked to Blackstone, who still had that look in his eye like someone who didn’t give a crap as long as they got what they wanted. My poker record is nothing to carve into the moon with a giant laser, but I can still recognize that one well enough. It’s like one of those guys who raises before they’ve even looked at their cards.

But Marivel, who at this point seemed to be the only voice Blackstone might listen to, stepped toward him and cowboy’ed up. “I don’t love you, but it’s possible that the me on your world might. I love another Doug Blackstone, and he loves me. If you stay, you’re hurting your other self and me. If you love me, leave.”

I saw Blackstone bunching up like he was going to argue or pounce. In the end, he did neither. He took a breath, let it go, and unclenched. I stepped up behind Marivel and patted her on the shoulder. “Good going. We’ll have this mess sorted out before the worldwide disasters start for once.”

Blackstone glared. “Get your hands off her.”

“I’ll put my hands wherever I want, but if you really want me to leave her alone, you know how to make it happen,” I said.

At that, Mobian pressed a button. Part of the floor opened up and a pedestal arose with Los Cincos Soles Dorados, the transcribed rituals of Nahuatal time mages, open upon it.

“I have configured this altar to redirect the energies of the book, to focus them on separating the two,” the time traveler said.

Marivel raised her hand to about head height. “Do you need me to do anything?”

Mobian smiled at her, “No, my dear, you’ve done fantastic already.” He gave me a look. Have I clarified before that there’s a difference between looking at someone and giving them a look? One’s a form of perception, the other’s communication. There’s meaning behind a look. This one was something like relief and a warning. I think he realized how close Marivel came to being sacrificed for our cause.

She stepped off to the side while Blackstone approached the book. He looked at me. “The sympathetic magics involved should be more easily accessed, but I need you here with me.” He held out a hand and I took it, standing close. The book really didn’t like me looking at it, but he read from it just fine.

Mobian rushed up the staircase to his control center and oversaw the creation of many bops and beeps.

“I need you to be honest with me, Gecko. What do you want more than anything else in the world?” Blackstone asked in a pause between chants.

I closed my eyes and recalled video of Qiang. “I want to see my daughter. And family. And friends.”

“You aren’t sad to leave an entire new world of victims behind?” he asked.

It was my turn to give him a look, one of incredulity. “I want to go home.”

He nodded and began chanting. I had a bit of trouble with the language, my database not having a lot of Pre-Colombian New World Languages to go off of, especially not in the areas colonized by the Spanish. But I could feel the power in the words. The light rose around us. I looked around and saw markings in the air the same color I’d gotten use to from the book.

“Whoa nelly!” Mobian called from his control dais. The lights expanded and then contracted within the timecraft. A spotlight from the ceiling shone down in a circle around us and the lights began to form a line in that lit area.

I heard Marivel gasping as she watched the whole thing, but I stayed focused on Blackstone and the book. And home. And Qiang.

With a sudden thunderclap, it all gave out and sparks flew from the ceiling. Blackstone braced himself on the pedestal. I caught myself on it as well. Marivel just collapsed. The timecraft jerked all over the place, which put me on my ass. After about a minute of tilt-a-whirl, Mobian got control of his ship.

“Captain’s log, Stardate 01-14-2019,” I said, standing back up on shaky knees. My HUD’s clock blinked 12:00 instead of giving the proper date, so I was going off of when we were before all the magical hijinks. “Something went down. We were… shot through a wormhole… in the… asspull nebula. Mr. Chekov, where are we?” I looked up to Mobian.

“I’m the captain of this vessel,” he responded. “We’re in the correct place, with the correct timeline.”

He brought up an image of the Earth. After a moment, he zoomed in, showing what looked like my city, but paused. “Now we watch as time reasserts itself.”

Eyebrow raised, I kept an eye on it while palming the ceramic knife I kept under my bed. I began to wonder if swiping it behind me without knowing for sure Blackstone’s there would take him out, then I realized with a smile that little deal was no longer in play. I wouldn’t have to throw a knife in the dark at a random intruder or set up bear traps. I could just end it right there.

I turned and swiped for his throat. Before I connected, I was yanked out of the timecraft. It was like being thrown out an airlock, but I was the only one being tossed out the now-open door of Mobian’s timecraft. Suddenly, my clock reset back to December, and the day the world changed. The fall was unusual as well. I didn’t feel the normal wind of skydiving, and I accelerated faster than terminal velocity before slowing and settling on the couch where I’d been when Blackstone’s ritual first took off and separated the world.

I sat there, watching as everybody sped up from moving slowly to normal to rushing in superspeed. Nobody touched the presents and the tree began to dry and drop needles everywhere. And I just sat there, unable to move while the clock on my HUD went crazy, finally settling on January 14th, 2019.

Lights out… and then I woke up to find myself dogpiled by Qiang, Citra, Mix N’Max, and even Silver Shark. I knew she still liked me. “What’s up, guys?” I asked, keeping a firm hold of Qiang.

“You went missing!” My daughter said through teary eyes and snot bubbles.

“Something freaky happened,” Max said. “Nobody believes me.”

“Max was really high. He was talking about another life where he’d never met you,” said Sam, who went for a punk green and red mohawk with isolated bangs.

I hugged Qiang. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, mama,” she said.

I kissed the top of her head a bunch. “You didn’t open your presents.”

“The Little Empress was waiting on you,” Citra said. I kissed her.

“Well, if we’re finally ready for the mother of all belated Christmases,” I said, looking around. “I’ve got a hell of a story for everyone…

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A Christmas Carnage 1

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Aside from our own Thanksgiving holiday to an unnamed island in the Mediterranean that hosts supervillains, it’s been relatively boring as of late. Sure, there’ve been problems to deal with. Big influx of refugees from Central America. I think I unnerved the nearby Directors when I found out about it. They didn’t find it as funny as I did, probably because they were Honduran instead of Peruvian.

I happened to have a lot of spare food laying around from my attempt to get people to stop their Christmas obsession by threatening to take away Thanksgiving, so it worked out. Turkeys for tots. I was going to reinstate the old self-proclaimed Immigration Director, but he’s dead. Funny story, this blacksmith was moving his anvil up to the second story of his building for some reason. The Director visiting a nephew at the nephew’s two-story blacksmith supply emporium on delivery day, when they were lifting anvils up to the second floor storage. Heck of a place for a collision with a drunk segway motorist. Ran right over his head. Not really a way to save someone at that point.

So I decided to chuck it in the fuck it bucket and came up with a new idea. I just let them in. They had to register real quick, with a subtle body and DNA scan. My guys used the data to create a profile for them on the island’s AR overlay. Think of it as a digital ghost the exact size and shape of a person that is laid on top of them everywhere they go with data embedded that keeps track of money and welfare. Even if they don’t get the equipment to interact with it, it’s compatible with the banks and most vendors on Ricca. A person with the overlay can walk right up to a register, get scanned, and the computers do the rest. If they have phones or glasses that interact with it, they can transfer it person to person.

The system appears to be secure so far, using my modified operating system that branched off from the dimension I came from. Nice and easy, with an option to operate off the grid with money.

So I’m working on that sort of thing, hunting bugs and building up the registration team. I already found some new workers for the nuclear power plant, and some nurses. If the nurses can’t hack it here, we have a training program in Belgium to help their hospital workers integrate nanite healing into their practices.

There’s really no crisis for what feels like the first time in five years or so. I’m not even all that worried about holiday problems this year. I think I’ve done about all I can for Christmas, and I simply don’t know enough about Hanukkah to help out. Also, Ricca doesn’t really celebrate Christmas. I heard Master Academy had something hectic going on in their neck of the woods, but it doesn’t appear to involve either myself or any anthropomorphic personifications of seasonal feelings so I’m sitting that out.

Yep, when I laid my head down to finally sleep, my brain swimming in medication Mix N’Max claims is keeping me level, I had nothing to do but hold my hot wife and sleep. I was awakened by the sound of metal chains making a racket. I reached over and grabbed for a weapon from the nightstand.

The Good Doctor, appearing see through, stepped through the wall. To begin with, he was clearly still dead. Once again, it’s kinda tough to bring someone back from how I killed him, and he didn’t look any more alive now that he was translucent. A spike had been driven into his heart that held the thick metal chain that wrapped around his body to him. He was clearly dead as a door nail, not that I know what’s so dead about door nails in particular. But it was Good Doctor. The same face and costume, with the addition of a thick chain with embedded designs of scalpels, bonesaws, and human organs.

I nodded to him, “Sup?”

“A lot. Er, is this a bad time?”

“I was trying to sleep,” I answered.

“That, and you, and her,” he said, sweeping his hand across the large dildo I held in my hand, my nude appearance, and my naked wife who had inexplicably remained sleeping. Probably because she snores like a bear.

I pulled on a teddy to cover up. “Fine, fine. I’m surprised you’re so prudish. Aren’t you British?”

“Actually, I’m dead,” he said. “However, I have important news for you that is best delivered if you aren’t otherwise distracted.”

I stood up and slid on some panties, then ran over and tried hugging him. My arms went right through him. “Aww,” I said.

He responded with a pained smile. “Being dead has tempered the hate I had for you in life, as a partner in your misdeeds. It is… nice you still see me as a friend.”

“Of course I do! One of the few I had for a long time. A little thing like fighting to the death isn’t going to change that,” I said. “Sorry about killing you by the way. Really the only thing to be done.”

He nodded. “Yes, it was you or me. Mind, I’d have preferred it being me.”

I shrugged. “I mean, obviously I feel the same way. Hard to fault you. So how you been?”

“I’ve been dead,” he said.

“Cool, I guess. So, you’re like a ghost now? The guys at the cemetery didn’t mention that.”

He shook his head. “This is not an ongoing thing. I was brought back and compelled to impart on you a message.”

“Wow… dick move. Someone brought you back from the dead because they couldn’t bother writing an email or texting?” I asked.

“I know, right?” Doc agreed.

I leaned in to stage whisper conspiratorially. “If you know the guy’s name, I wouldn’t mind doing you a little favor. Ya know, sending him a message involving being dead the old fashioned way. Or her, I should say. I still forget that stuff, despite, ya know…” I pointed at my awesome boobage.

“Yes, well, I don’t know what force has put me back on Earth or forced me to weigh me down with the chains of my sins while alive. This doesn’t make any sense, does it?” he asked, pointing to the chains.

I reached for one and passed right through. “Yeah, gravity isn’t ordinarily something I associate with ghosts, but there are loads of unanswered questions there regarding centrifugal force and gravity that magic has to answer for.”

“Right. Including the fact I’m back and not even allowed to enjoy a nice cup of tea. Look at me, I appear to have gotten into the weeds on this. I should continue on, then we can hang out. Where was I…” He cocked his head to think. When he spoke again, it was with a cadence of recitation instead of the normal way in which he conversed. “Oh yes. I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, meter by meter. I girded it of my own free will… bugger that, you know I was forced into this… and of my own free will I wear it, which is a load of bollocks as well. Would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? I don’t even want to think about it.”

“The ending was a little weak,” I judged. “But if someone’s going to stick a chain on me after death in proportion to the evil they think I’ve done, chances are good it’d be a lot worse than yours. Now to figure out who this necromancer is and do them in first…” I set up a database search for people in the superhuman community that practice magic. The Faustus/Hephaestus organization is top of the list and probably have a more complete listing than I do. I imagine plenty of people using magic just want to go about their everyday lives instead of throwing on capes and fighting people in tights.

“I don’t know about the chain. It is just the message I was given to convey. Now I’m worried what will happen if you die and someone raises you from the dead as some sort of ghostly reaper,” Good Doctor said. He sighed and looked around. Spotting a chair next to a small desk, he sat down in it.

I pointed at the chair. “Exactly what I mean about magic having a lot to answer for. Can you believe that shit?”

“Relax, I’m tired for some reason,” he looked down at where he seemed to be sweating. “I seem to have sprung a leak.”

I waved it off. “Probably just ectoplasm. Don’t worry, the folks who clean in here are used to strange fluids in strange places. So was that it? That all you needed to say?”

“I feel as though my time is nearly gone,” he said, taking up the same cadence as when he was reciting his message, “But I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Psychopomp.”

“You’re a good guy, dude,” I told him.

“You will be haunted by three spirits,” he said.

I pointed the dildo at him. “Dammit, Doc, I will fuck a ghost up. Don’t you play with me. I’ll bust the shit out of you.”

He held his hands up. “This is the message again! There will be three more ghosts. They shall come at midnight on different days.”

I thought about it a minute. “Ghost of a friend I used to partner with… visited by three ghosts… are any of them related to Christmas in the past, present, or future?”

He shrugged. “I think so? I don’t have a lot of information about my current condition and what is compelling me to do and say these things.”

I brought the hand with the dildo up to rub my forehead, the veiny purple toy wobbling as I did so. “Just when I thought I was safe from Christmas, someone’s gone and pulled A Christmas Carol on me.”

“You think it was a person?” Doc asked. “If there is someone behind this, I haven’t met them or spoken with them.”

“Makes more sense to me than the universe suddenly changing how it works out of nowhere to spit out a bunch of ghosts related to a man-made holiday in the hopes of reforming me when I’m not even at my worst,” I explained.

“I wish you luck,” Doctor said, standing up. “I must go, and I do not know if I shall ever see you again.” He adjusted the chain. “I will be glad to be rid of this.” He looked up at me. “Good luck staying out of this chain yourself. For what it’s worth, I hope you become a better person, but for your own sake. These violent delights have violent ends, you know.”

“We’ll see how it turns out.” I smiled at him as he began to fade away. “Rest in peace, Doc.”

When I was pretty sure he was gone, I sat back down on my bed to contemplate the necromancer and ghosts trying to mess with me. Then I laid back down and finally set the dildo I’d grabbed from the nightstand back where it had been, my fingers tracing the model name on the side that read, “Big Humbug”.

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Judgment Day

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Perhaps I’ve neglected my self-imposed duties to VillaiNet too long. Perhaps I feel the need to reassure them I’m still down with the agreement we all made despite killing a lot of superhumans lately. Perhaps I just get bored ruling easily. I was called upon to judge people. And I can get very judgy. I sent the White House to another dimension, after all. Still a good call, I believe.

In full armor, I saw a child custody case between a villain and her hero husband. Vertigal had the power to reverse the effects of gravity, temporarily. Her husband, on the other hand… “What, exactly do you do?” I asked him.

“I have a sticky sprayer and sticky grenades. They use a special adhesive that’s almost impossible to remove,” the man said. He wore a crimson and yellow outfit with thick red boots and yellow gloves. He had a big black “R” across his chest. “I’m Resolve, by the way. When my-my wife said we were visiting a Pacific paradise, I thought this would be more about pleasure than coming before a killer supervillain.”

“Pe- Resolve, take a breath. If this was about hurting you, there are better ways to do it.” Vertigal had a costume made up of black and white swirls that swept up from her legs. She resembled a spiral if you saw her from above. The effect didn’t work so well from ground level, but she sought my judgment in relation to child custody, not fashion. A little heavy on the hips, but she is a mother. Her mask had the same black and white spiral pattern over it, with a black-colored eye area over white spiral and a white one over black spiral.

They’d both come before my throne. Sure, I was bored, but I also just got back to my daughter and family. Even my wife had been welcoming despite the political nature of our marriage and her spending all her time on online courses now. So when the whole dispute was sent through to me for whatever reason, I offered to fly them both out here. We’re getting a lot more normal commercial service these days. Unlike some countries, my regime isn’t known for torturing journalists to death or inciting street fighters to attack my political opponents. I murder those myself, then I tell the witnesses I’ll kill them if they talk to the press. Makes me look better in comparison, which has really been the key to my success.

“You didn’t think to warn me you were bringing me here?” he asked.

“You didn’t warn me you were going to tell the cops who I was to keep Sara to yourself,” she said.

Resolve threw up his hands. “You were going to get full custody. She’s my daughter too.”

“You play around with chemicals and make superglue. You don’t have the time or money to take care of her, but I do,” Vertigal responded.

“Stolen money!” he said.

“Your mother didn’t mind my stolen money paying for her new boobs, did she?” Vertigal sniped back.

Resolve didn’t like that one. “Can we get off my mom’s boobs?!”

“About time you wanted to,” Vertigal said.

With them arguing and barely paying me any attention, I waved over one of the Directory servants. There aren’t really too many Directors left aside from those I ask to continue handling their particular duties, so the servants pretty much solely cater to my whims. That meant bringing over a snack for me of some dumplings. “Just leave that there, thank you,” I said to the servant. I picked up chopsticks and began tossing them to see if I could bounce one off the top of someone’s head. One smacked Vertigal’s cheek, getting a laugh from Resolve. Then he tried to catch a dumpling that hit him in the side of the leg. It ended up falling into his boot.

While he pulled it off to dump the dumpling out, I took my turn to speak. “If I wanted to hear all this, I’d put on a daytime talk show. You, Vertigal, you thought he shouldn’t have custody?”

“I’m fine with visits and letting her stay with him some. Resolve goes out every night and has trouble holding down a job because of his crimefighting. That’s no environment for my baby girl. Then he outed me to the cops,” she sounded bitter through that full face mask.

“Who wants their daughter growing up in a house with a career criminal? I found out your friend Fred was another villain. Is that the crowd you want around Sara?” Resolve said.

I raised four hands. “Address me from now on or I’ll find bigger things to throw at you both. So, Vertigal, you’re concerned about Resolve being able to adequately care for your child because of his heroic duties, and him providing monetarily for her needs. Resolve, you’re concerned about your daughter being raised by a supervillain. Going to be honest here, not an argument I’m amenable too.” I stapled both sets of hands. “It’s not helped by the fact that now she’s on the run because you told people her identity. I can see now why this scenario was referred to me. That was a shitty move, Resolve. How would you like it if I put your real name out there for everyone to see, including the villains?”

“I was doing what’s right. I didn’t intend to hurt anybody,” he said.

I stood up. “But you did, didn’t you? If you’d only intended to hurt her, this might have been even easier on you. You two get into a fight, like heroes and villains do. But in the name of doing what’s right without thinking of the consequences, you outed your daughter’s mother to the police. They’ll be after her. She might go on the run, keeping Sara from having a stable life. You might win custody, but the only way she gets to see her daughter is if she keeps her out of your hands or those of the Justice system. Or she gets arrested, and your daughter grows up with a parent in prison.”

He looked to Vertigal, then looked down.

I clapped my hands together. “I got it! An idea to make this nice and fair, Wisdom of Solomon- style.” I beckoned a servant over. “Bring me butcher knife.”

“No!” both supers yelled, rushing toward me. I held my open palms toward them and they stopped. It wasn’t nanites so much as authority.

“I assure you, I have no intentions of cutting your daughter in half.” I let that rest for a moment before adding. “I’m a hero killer after all. I’ll cut her father in half.”

Guards I’d silently summoned marched forth from behind Resolve, holding their microguns to his back. He reached down for his belt before remembering he was disarmed.

“Stop!” Vertigal put herself between myself and Resolve. “Please. Yes, he’s a prick, but he’s still my baby’s daddy. I don’t hate him, I suppose.”

I stepped down the steps toward her. “You would stand in the way of my decision to half him?”

She swallowed. “Please. A-and besides, killing him means the state can take Sara if I’m put in jail.”

I waved off the guards. They bowed, turned, and left. I circled around hero and villain like a shark. “Under an agreement your ex-wife has joined, she has every right to call for your death, Resolve. So you two are going to work this out. Vertigal’s on the run, so I’ll fix her up with disguises. Maybe a wig. Officially you’ve got custody because of your stunt, but she can at least be your babysitter. You can even claim it’s your ex paying for the sitter from on the run. Now shake on it.”

They turned and shook, at which point I came up and clapped them on their nearest shoulders. “Good. Now it’s time for the punishment.”

Resolve was aghast. “I thought you weren’t going to kill me?!”

I shrugged my shoulders even as I held him in place with a lower arm. “I’m not, no, but I was called upon to enact justice. And I will do so… for great justice!” I pointed a finger to the sky.

“You’re a villain! What do you care about justice?” Resolve asked. Vertigal looked at him and rolled her eyes.

I informed him that, “I’ll have you know I have quite the highly-developed sense of justice. That’s precisely why I’m a villain.”

Resolve shared a wordless look with Vertigal, who told him. “I’m in it for the money.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Personally, the joy of hurting people was also a major part of it for me. You wouldn’t believe it. But yeah. You can’t just expose people’s identities, dude. If I let you get away with it, it sends a signal that it’s ok to do that. We can’t have that.”

That’s how we found ourselves out on the water in a small yacht that fell off the back of a truck somewhere. My wife joined us, bringing along tea and speaking with Vertigal. Citra’s a hell of a lot more diplomatic than myself. And nice to stare at in her two-piece. Vertigal’s not so bad herself, if a bit paler than I expected. Always fun to realize in the middle of eyeing someone’s ass that they’re admiring mine as well. Yep, I too changed into something better for the ocean, though I’ve been favoring one-pieces lately. So while Vertigal hopefully broached the subject of a threesome with my wife, I saw to making sure her husband wouldn’t be unmasking anyone else if he was in a position to do so. I got it on video as well, just so VillainNet could see the consequences.

They’ll probably watch it with sound off, considering I was singing as I rode a robo-shark. “Butterfly in the sky!” I said, arms spread wide. I squeezed the robo-shark’s saddle with my legs, feet hooked in stirrups. The whole shiver of sharks, as a group of such are called, circled Resolve, who tried to balance himself on a teeny-tiny inner tube that would sink if he put all his wait on top of it. Occasionally, one of the other sharks would come and give him a little nip. Just enough to tear some of his costume away. And my mount would leap out of the water, with me singing.

“I can go twice as high!” Chomp. “Take a look!” Chomp. “It’s in a book!” Chomp. “A reading rainbow!”

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Hare-Brained 9

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I’m “swearing” off women other than my wife. Yes, the square quotes are intentional. I didn’t swear actually swear or promise or make a deal about anything. I’m just going to try. I don’t know why it seems worthwhile to me. I don’t love Citra. We’re friendly but not friends. Maybe the best reason I can come up with is the dignity of my position. I mean, just imagine how hard it’d be to take a world leader seriously if I had strippers and porn stars doing tell-all interviews describing what my sex parts look like in an embarrassing way. Like saying it’s abnormally big and resembled a Sarlacc pit.

I know, it’s weird. It’s just that her feelings suddenly matter more after a few of Max’s beers. Not that they were completely out of mind. Carl, Moai, Qiang, Max… not the first people I cared about.

I confronted someone I didn’t care about, too. I visited Elda. Technically, she’s supposed to be my wife as part of a political marriage with the Bronze City over on the island of Mu. I betrayed her and put her into a coma while marrying Citra who used nanite surgery to look like her. I stopped by a special room in the hospital that no one knows about and left a sword in there. “Hello Elda. Long time no see.”

She didn’t respond, naturally. The equipment hooked up to her showed her to be healthy enough. The nanites were keeping her comatose. She’d lost weight, though. I sent out out an order to nanites and the medical staff. “A bit skinny there. I’ll work on that. I’ve wronged you, Elda. No duh, right? You had dreams of being some warrior princess and here I come to be the one to marry you. I should have worked something out with you that didn’t involve hurting you.” The nanites made sure my message go through to her, because science. Hail science!

“I’m sorry. This sword is the first of the gifts I’ll be throwing together for you. They’ll bring up clothes later and I have armor being printed off for you. Before I… there’s a fight coming up involving people who have a reputation as gods, and the powers to back it up. When I go, I’m going to make sure we drop you off somewhere. Give you a shot at being your own person, as you deserve. I’ll throw in some money and arrange for a tutor on this crazy new world you’ll be in, but I think you’ll fit in. The land I have in mind is a land of conflict, where you can find your way for good or ill. A land where you can, with effort, become who you want to be out from under my shadow.”

I stepped close and laid my hand over hers. “I am by far the shittiest spouse you could have gotten. I hope you find a better life than I obviously planned for you.”

That decision’s going to bite me in the ass at some point. But it’s still the right one. Ugh, that statement… I need a beer.

Speaking of things that can fuck me over, Hu. Hu’s attempts to get me to understand proportionality, like Citra, rubbed off on me. The dude’s still not being my liason another time, but he’s got good skills and he cares. He just fucked up. I suppose the case could be made for how I shouldn’t have killed that judge or Wong the Director, but I can rationalize it another way. Hu is still good at his job despite his poor judgment, in which he went above and beyond his authorized powers. Wong and that judge’s entire job amounted to their judgment and how they used it. They both showed themselves incompetent with the powers vested in them, which was hazardous to my nation.

Side note: Queen Beetrice, the giant bee woman obsessed with snoo-snooing me to death, has heard I did a good job on the courts and thinks I need to help out over in North Korea. They are my people too, but I guess her self-education hasn’t prepared her for making North Korea’s judicial system less gulag-y. I got her some notes, but that’s the best I could do. I have more important things to worry about than that at this point.

I have the Place du Bourg-de-Four under so much surveillance it would make a porn site feel forgotten. Do you know how many rats fart there on average each day? I do. Disturbances in the pattern of rat farts could be the only indication the Three Hares have snuck an ambush into place or deployed some form of weapon. Rat farts start petering off and then I find out there’s poison gas hidden around that’s been killing them off slowly while waiting on me to get close.

The Hares wouldn’t expect me to pay attention, but I’ll show them. I’ll show all of them. There’s an ancient conspiracy uniting ancient European, African, American, Asian, and Oceanian mythology, involving gods and aliens guiding the world while remaining hidden, and the rats will tell me if they try to kill me. Yes, the Three Hares will rue the day Psycho Gecko started taking her medication! Mwahahahaha!

So like I said, the stuff Max is giving me for my mental health has done wonders to make me a more sane and functional person. And it’s all thanks to my extensive drinking of alcohol. Couldn’t have done it without putting all that beer in me. It’s practically made me a role model compared to my old self.

That doesn’t mean all my problems are solved. In addition to keeping an eye on the Three Hares, the United States government wants me to give back Rhonda, Leland, and Kayla. I’ve refused on the grounds of Ricca being safer. The envoy from the U.S. Started to laugh at the idea that U.S. Citizens are safer in an foreign dictatorship until I showed him the front page of the latest newspaper showing brutal murders committed by police, children being rounded up and placed into internment camps, and constant mass shootings. The only response was an awkward, “We didn’t realize you subscribed to American news.”

He’d had a drink of water. It would have been so easy. An aneurysm. A heart attack. A stroke. He sat there, speaking as if I needed to do what he said or I’d be obliterated. Because how dare anybody challenge them. The rest of the world just has to let them push them around. Makes me want to find something big to shove, whole, up that guy’s ass. Reminds me a lot of myself.

Well, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day. The Visigoths didn’t have dimensional technology. I do, so I’ve been throwing one together. It’s all part of the plan, you see. Get peace, or make them die trying. But that’s all boring. I’ve built plenty of those. The really interesting stuff happened, as it so often does, when I was in the shower.

I was sudsing myself up with all four arms, getting my curves nice and clean. The door rang. It was that pizza I ordered that I didn’t have enough money to pay for.

Fanservice over. I was farting my way through another shower when someone screamed my name. It’s not an unusual sound for the shower, but I do prefer the person screaming it be in there with me when the magic’s happening. I didn’t think too much of it, until more voices joined in. Figuring the household wasn’t turning into my own personal chorus of the damned, I threw a towel around my waist, another around my boobs, and a last one around my hair. The final towel I tightened into a spiral for self defense.

I found Silver Shark, Citra, and Rhonda all surrounding Qiang. My daughter held a box between both hands. The top of it had fallen open toward me and I read the phrase “Hold your hands on the markers for the surprise!”

I started to ask what was going on until I realized Qiang was shaking. One second I was in the hallway, the next I was by all of them at the door. Qiang looked up at me. “Mommy what is it? It said to pick it up?”

I looked down at the digital timer inside the box. It was made of a black composite material, with two things sticking up that could have been shortwave antennae until one of the tips began to glow and turned to point at me. The other light up with a hologram of a dark silhouette. “Psychopomp Gecko. The glorious apparatus will negotiate with your successor.”

The Three Hares, those slimy sons of parakeets.

“Just hold onto it… let me look.” I checked it over from various angles, then popped an eye out and eased it down between the bomb and the box. While it had pressed against the sides of the box with either pressure sensors or fingerprint scanners, there wasn’t anything like that on the other sides. “How are your arms, sweety?” I asked as I popped the eye back in.

“They huuurt!” Qiang whined.

I nodded. “I nee you to keep your hands there, but we can set them it down on something. Let’s just sit you down, ok?”

She nodded and I guided her over to a little table in the living room where she could sit down and rest herself and her arms. “A person can be perfectly strong, but holding something out in front of you with arms extended makes anybody tired quick. It’s- no, we’ll discuss Tai Chi later. What we have here is a small example of an implosive-explosive sub-molecular device. Not a big deal at all, I promise y’all.”

It was the size that was so astonishing. Excellent miniaturization. The thing wasn’t round, but it was a couple baseballs in size.

It seemed like a longshot, but I reached in with a finger and pressed it to what I’d identified as a crucial computerized part of the initiation sequence. A lot of these explosives, it’s really a matter of chemistry and physics. Fire or water can set stuff off, or simple kinetics. It often just depends on which chemicals are used in the process. Even an atomic bomb isn’t that complicated of a weapon. My ability to bond with computers would be useless against Little Boy, for instance.

The difference here is that this thing had sensors rigged up, and a timer. I’d have just put a timer on to scare someone while the thing detonated whenever I wanted. This person put one on to tell me I had five minutes to fix the problem.

When I linked up with it, I found that an internal mechanism was capable of reading when the timer reached zero to activate an internal explosive driving… ya know, unless I want this censored in that dimension, I should probably keep the specifics to myself. Don’t want Optimal Outer Control getting in trouble for teaching people how to build a nuclear weapon, regardless of the availability of plutionium over there.

Regardless, the flaw wasn’t in the fundamental function of the bomb, but in how it was meant to be triggered. The sensors on the side were fingerprint scanners, which meant they specifically targeted my daughter out of a desire to die by having as much of their body shoved up their own ass as humanly possible. They would trigger the explosives that would initiate the fission reaction if released. Otherwise, the timer would make it all happen.

It was actually pretty simple to trick the computer in there into increasing the amount of time and holding onto a false positive for the scanners. “Ok, hon, you can take your hands off.”

“You promise nothing bad will happen?” my crying daughter asked.

Oh, something bad will happen to someone for this. “Mommy promises.”

Qiang pulled her hands away quickly, then started jumping and screaming in relief when nothing happened. I managed to put the bomb into shutdown mode, then disconnected and called up the Institue of Science. Dr. Creeper practically flew. Actually, he completely flew. I heard him roar in on an old-fashioned rocketpack that looked like if Wile E. Coyote joined the Third Reich. “I vill personally deliver zis to a secure room for decommissioning, my lady,” he announced.

I leaned in to whisper so no one else would hear. “Make sure the room can contain a nuclear bomb. This one’s crude and small, but still.”

He nodded, tucked the bomb under one arm, raised a fist to the air, and blasted off again.

“There goes trouble,” said Silver Shark as she watched the trail of his rocket power through the air.

“Make it double,” I said flatly.

“Are you alright?” she asked, looking at me. “I expected you to be pissed, or to go laughing mad.”

“I’m fine, Sharky,” I said, cracking my fingers and walking back in. Even when I hugged my girl to me, the cold rage in me refused to yield.

I’ll get peace when the Three Hares rest in it. All of them.

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Hare-Brained 8

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Micro-managing my island is fun and all, but I’m missing all the fun stuff. Despite being a dictator, it’s considered bad form to just kill any of my citizens I’d like. I CAN, of course. Even the Directory’s pretty well gutted at this point. Security, Intel, and the military are all my guys. But it still benefits me not to be a malevolent dictator. Follow along here. If I’m an asshole, that spreads a lot more resentment than necessary and I get people willing to cooperate with coups and assassination attempts. If I keep everyone poor and without the basics, that opens me up to Robin Hood situations.

Machiavelli once asked if it was better to be feared or loved. In The Prince, he concluded that it was better to be feared. He was also a proponent of democracy who argued that the tyrant to be feared should live within a conquered city and arm the citizens of the city. I’m not listening to Machiavelli on this one. I’m just a feared assassin and dictator living in the city I conquered while allowing my people free access to all kinds of goods being smuggled or shipped through- FUCK!

Well, all the more reason not to piss off everyone. And all the more reason to put tiny machines I can control into the water supply.

I think it’s pretty clear I’ve gotten antsy waiting around. Y’all see it. Max has noticed it. Holly actually approached me one day asking if I had any fairy dust to sprinkle on her and help her fly, so she definitely noticed.

I tried to channel that energy toward building more stuff, Dudebot modifications, armor maintenance, etc., etc. And I didn’t take Max’s medication anymore, but I’m willing to think about it. As soon as negotiations are over.

Speaking of negotiations, I finally got word back on that. It happened while I was sitting in on a court hearing. Bank robbers helped themselves into a passing car. They forced the driver into the backseat at knifepoint and tried to escape from Security. Security laid down a tack strip at Wong Way, popped the tires, and now there was a hearing about possibly charging him as some sort of accomplice. The Imperial attorneys figured he might have brought the car along and pretended to be kidnapped to save his own skin.

I showed up to make sure the courts were working smoothly, but I think I’ll have to take a look at finding some way to keep something like this from even making it to court. The attorneys representing the Empire need a little shaking up over it, and I might implement some sort of public defender program. The guy’s just sitting there without an attorney, ignorant of arguments, procedures, motions, and all that.

The judge was quicker on the uptake than the Imperial attorneys. He banged his gavel and declared, “I am not inclined to press the matter further with someone whose only crime was being borne on the Wong side of the tacks.”

I nodded and got up to leave when I saw Barkiel standing there. One of these purple humanoid aliens of the Three Hares, he favored jeans and a denim jacket, projecting a disguise of himself as just another guy with sandy blonde hair. This time, he let the human projection fade into one that more accurately showed himself in a uniform that included a short jacket with poofy upper arms that reminded me of those fancy uniform pants, the jodhpurs.

I raised an eyebrow. Barkiel clicked his heels together and stood up straight. “I have an official announcement for Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca and North Korea.”

“Can we take it outside?” I asked, quietly. Looking around, it didn’t seem anyone else had noticed the projection. I walked through the projection and the door to find a more suitable place for receiving an emmisary from a hostile group. My first thought was to sit on the nearest throne, but… fine, ok, I led him to the lobby of the courthouse. “A most unconventional audience, Barkiel.”

“Thank you for seeing me, Empress,” he said, floating over to stand in front of me and perform a formal Western-style bow. “My superiors wish for me to inform you of the receipt of your message and our desire to meet with you and representatives of the other belligerents.”

“As it happens, my island is a great place to have such a meeting. Here, in the Directory Building, in a week.” I tapped my toe on the floor, figuring the impatience and annoying sound might mess with Barkiel.

He kept his voice calm and downright monotone as he responded, “Your island is unacceptable. We suggest Jerusalem as an alternative.”

I shook my head. “First, that’s insulting to my island. You should go outside and apologize. Second, that’s not happening. Just about the only thing Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in that city can all agree on is that I’m not allowed there anymore. Which is really stupid, because I was Pope once. That changed before I could do anything about the kid-fucking too, and the world’s worse off for it.”

Barkiel tried not to laugh. “We need a neutral location. We propose Switzerland.”

I was going to propose Mu, but Switzerland isn’t too bad… “The Island of Mu.”

“You maintain a client state on that neutral location. Should you agree to a meeting in the public square of Place du Bourg-de-Four in Geneva, we would be willing to acquiesce to your desire on the date.”

A public square isn’t a bad idea. It’d be much harder for them to pull off replacing everyone around like in that John Wick movie, and being outside gives a lot more options to get away if it’s an ambush. Plus, I can keep an eye out with satellites and even launch on the place. It’s bad form to launch missiles at Switzerland, but it’s not like they’ve helped any of the major world powers out in a war lately. The thing about neutrals is that they have enough sympathy to your cause not to attack you themselves, but they’re more than happy to stand by and watch your enemy throw your corpse in a ditch.

I nodded to him, “You bring your leaders, we bring ours. And we meet in a week, when the autumnul equinox has brought me to my full power.

No matter what, my preparations shouldn’t take too much longer, but I have to have time for Titan and Venus. So a week from when we talked: September 24th. And the part about the equinox is just a straight-up lie that might put doubts into someone’s head if he tells them about it. Never be afraid to lie to your enemy… it’s kinda their fault if you’ve killed a bunch of their people already and they choose to believe whatever you say.

Barkiel didn’t stay to goad me into anything. I think someone had a way of keeping an eye on him, because that alien’s been helping me take down his people. Well, technically he’s been helping me kill off the divine part of the Three Hares. He even helped me escape from them. I don’t know what game he’s playing, but I know he’s not entirely opposed to me succeeding.

I immediately sent off a transcript of the conversation to Titan and Venus and called up everyone to check on how we were doing. Still no vaccine. The island shield seemed to do well, but they found some more issues when testing it. Something about regulating the flow of electricity and concerns about heating. They’re working on it. It’s not the first shield the Riccan Institute of Science has dealt with, even with the post-Claw brain drain. It should be ready in case anything goes down when I decapitate the Hares.

But first, it was off to dinner with Citra. My poor wife has gone through a lot. Not labor, ok, but she used to be my maid, then her mother and I had sex and I agreed to marry her, then married another woman and made her pretend to be that woman for awhile. Such is not the origin of a happy marriage, but I’m at least trying not to be a complete asshole.

So I took her out. I’d wanted to get all dressed up and go to this fancy place, but a little bit of Max’s beer prompted me to get the novel idea of asking her what she wanted to do. “Dance with me,” she said. And so instead of fancy dressing up that I enjoyed, we threw on skimpy clothes and went out to this dark club with pounding beats. I don’t normally dress like that, as I’m a villain in the streets and a freak in the sheets.

It was there in the club I discovered my wife is considered something of a hotty. Or at least a lot of the guys thought so when they saw her in a leather skirt and stripper heels. Which, if I’m not mistaken, explains where my pair disappeared to. We should really go shoe shopping together.

Stripping can be good exercise, and you never know when you’ll need to fight using poles. Plus, the heels are really good for inserting into enemy weak spots, like eyes or urethras. I have trouble getting them in on the first swing, but I am known for my dogged persistence. And doggy-style insistence. Which explains why Citra preferred to dance up on me from behind and whisper in my ear, “I got a new strap-on.”

I wrapped my arms around hers, holding her hands and keeping her close to me. “I’m a poor excuse for a husband.”

We danced way too slow for a place with a spinning discoball that helped reflect multicolored lights through the black lights of the dance floor.

“You’re my wife though,” she said, whispering in my ear before giving the lobe a little nibble. “Evil supervillain Psycho Gecko is concerned about taking time off for her wife.”

“I may be sleeping around, but this is supposed to be a partnership between you and I, but I’ve forced you into roles you were never prepared for. Mother to a child you didn’t want or ask for. Wife to one of the most hated people on Earth. Empress to a nation you were a servant in. You’ve had no say in this, and that’s not what I want. So, to once again drag out that most interesting of questions… what do you want?”

I felt her press a kiss against my hair where it covered the back of my neck, then return to my ear, speaking a little louder to be heard over a new song that started up. “I’d like to go to college and be the second best Empress on Earth. And I want to have you all to myself. And I want to put a baby in you.”

That brought a raised eyebrow. “I can think of two ways that last one’s possible right now, and I have to warn you that I’m not into unbirthing.”

She giggled in my ear. “Max has some ideas about that provided you don’t give your daughter and her best friend a baby half sister first.”

I rolled my eyes and leaned back against her. “Just not a lot of guys I feel that way about… and the thought DID occur to me. It felt symmetrical in a freaky way.”

“Mhm, I bet.” I let her turn me around to face her. The face I saw wasn’t hers. It was Dame’s. “Maybe this is the woman you would like a baby with?” She held up her phone and pressed a button, at which point her face began to change again through what I recognized as nanite plastic surgery. After a few seconds, she had Venus’s face. “Or her?”

I smiled in a crooked, skeptical sort of way. “You really don’t want me messing around anymore, do you?”

She winked at me, then noticed something over my shoulder. Her smile faded. “It’s Wong.”

“I mean, if we both agreed I could do it, it wouldn’t be, but clearly that’s not the case here.”

She pointed over my shoulder. I turned to see one of the Directors I recently sent home on indefinite leave. It was him and a half dozen other guys with Uzi pistols and swords that looked like short machetes with handguards, known colloquially as butterfly swords.

I broke into the DJ’s computer and made an alteration to the playlist. The crowd were understandaly confused when the song changed to “Danger! High Voltage” by Electric Six. I kept dancing along with Citra as irritated people left the floor, making plenty of room for Wong and his gang to surround me, illuminated by the colored lights from the discoball spinning overhead.

I pushed Citra down my body. Lower, lower… until she was safely on her knees while I faked moans.

“I knew if I watched, you would make a wrong move,” announced Wong.

“Oh yeah. Right there. There, there, there, oh my ME!” I yelled, raising my face and firing my eye laser. The discoball redirected the laser all over the club and the men who came to voice their vociferous opposition to my tyranny, frying them and catching parts of the club on fire.

I laughed as Citra stood up and checked out the corpses. “As hot as this has been, it’s kinda dead on the dance floor now.”

She smiled and took my hand to lead me off to a night of spousal fun, telling me, “I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want to start a flame in your heart.”

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Hare-Brained 2

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The Munich raid went well. The point of the thing was to blow a hole in that big ol’ privacy fence around their compound. The Germans are investigating it now, and finding all sorts of weird things scattered around. Drugs, a couple of stolen artifacts, uranium; all sorts of things that will draw a lot of attention to that compound and have people investigating. Expose them, force them to run again, exhaust them.

I’d had… feelings. Thinking of a plan, part of me remembered all the kids and innocents there. Attacking would risk killing civilians, even if a lot of them do have powers. I lived among them, danced with them. I drank beer with them and perhaps even Frenched one or two of them under the influence. I spent a night rocking back and forth in a chair, thinking about what to do. I was practically distraught.

But now, I had video showing they were all ok. The local news reporters provided that glimpse, but I quite enjoyed the view from various drones flying high above it. Can’t blow shit up in Europe without a few different militaries becoming interested. So seeing everyone come out of this fine and dandy, it was such a relief. Such a relief, I started laughing. And, my oh my, it seems my finger slipped on a button in the middle of all my laughter. Looks like someone shouldn’t send up drones for recon with their payloads.

It was so sad, I had to laugh about it. It’s a natural way to handle this sort of bad news, after all. Laugh so as not to cry.

If the cruel fate of the Munich compound wasn’t enough, the Hares themselves are playing on my emotions. I’ve letters expressing the feelings of the Three Hares. The night of the bombing, for instance. I got up to handle some business in the bathroom. I was going over plans for a new island shield and crapping when the jacuzzi began rattling. The nozzles burst out into the tub and streams of water stretched out and formed into a person, a woman with a metal visor with a single big, round glass eye on it and gems on either side.

“Psycho Gecko! Prepare to die!”

I put aside the hologram I was working with and reached for the rear of the toilet. “May I at least have a courtesy flush first?”

“I guess?” she said. Small gems began to light up leading to the glass eye, three on either side. I reached back behind the toilet. As I’ve mentioned before I often keep a gun there in order to clear up any problematic clogs. That’s why I whipped out the Smith & Wesson Schofield. I missed that first shot, causing the cyclopean assassin before me to duck and charge more of those gems up. Another miss, then a hit on her shoulder. When she turned, the final gems lit up, and that’s when I popped her in the central glass eye.

“Fuck shit!” she screamed, grabbing at the eye. I dove off, pulling my panties up. I wasn’t there when she took her hands away and instead shot lasers from the six gems leading up the glass eye. Three smaller beams shot out, putting holes in the marble toilet. But since these were three all along a band, beams were flying all over the place. They bounced off mirrors and mirrored surfaces, so it’s a good thing I was staying low and crawling behind her. When she stopped and looked around, I tackled her from behind and pushed her down.

She cracked her chin pretty good on the lip of the toilet where the seat didn’t cover. I grabbed a handful of her hair and pushed her face down into the bowl to let her gurgle on dinner. I had the Schofield still in hand and gave her a shot in the back. Then I lost my grip on her as she turned to liquid again and flowed down the toilet, flushing it in the process. I jumped up and pointed the Schofield down the bowl, then noticed the blood smeared on me and smiled with an idea. I wiped blood onto my hand and pushed it into the toilet bowl, making a minor programming change.

The pipes in the jacuzzi, toilet, sink, and shower began to rattle. A huge chunk of the room shook. Blood began to spurt from the sink. It started to fill the jacuzzi. The shower head shot off as bloody water rained down. Finally, the toilet reversed and sprayed water and blood all over the ceiling.

When those of the household who cared about my health came running, they found me laughing and soaking wet with blood and water. I shut the bathroom door as I saw Max and Silver Shark run up.

“What’s going on?” Max asked.

I pointed at the door in all my giggling, then waved my hand. “You don’t wanna go in there. Whew!” I couldn’t hardly finish speaking for all the laughter.

Speaking of funny incidents, another occurred as I was enjoying a quiet night in my study, just working on some new material for this joke I’m playing on the world. Mix N’Max walked in and passed right by me to address a chair. “Gecko, you’re doing it again.”

Dame fell to the floor as I awoke and she scampered out of there. I yawned and looked up at Max from my chair. “Whoopsy. Can you blame me for making sure an extra pair of eyes watched out as I slept?”

“I can blame you if they’re her eyes. Look, Gecko, we go back and I’m afraid I have to suggest something is more wrong than usual with you,” he knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. Even his smile looked apologetic.

“I must use any and all resources to protect myself, Max. It’s the way of the world. Besides, I’m rehabilitating Dame,” I indicated his grin. “So turn that lack of a frown upside and around.”

“How is holding a woman as a slave in her own body rehabilitation? You’re better than this,” he told me.

“I AM better than this. I’m so good, I made Dame perfectly trustworthy. Never again can she betray me for anyone. Always there, in her mind. THAT’s why they wanted me. The world’s changing, and I’m like a god of the new world order.”

“You’re not a god,” Max said, pointing his finger at me. “Remember the rule on godhood.”

I rolled my eyes. “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes. Everyone knows the Aykroyd Rule.”

“No, the other rule. The one about supervillains who start declaring themselves gods. Does that ever end well?”

“Well-”

He held up one finger. “Nebuchadnezzar.”

“Gesundheit,” I said.

He cocked his head to the side in a look that said “Really?” even though he didn’t.

“Fine, tried to consume a ball of energy bigger than his own head a little too fast. Blew up.”

Max raised a second finger. “Aria.”

“Used a device to boost her powers, but someone managed to block them long enough and record her super voice to use it against her,” I answered.

“Following the pattern?” he asked.

“Technically it isn’t a pattern until there’s three incidents,” I reminded him.

Max looked at me, lowered the first two fingers, and raised the third one, the ring finger. “You want to be this one?”

“That’s hardly-” and then I shot up into space without crashing through roofs or walls. And it wasn’t really space. I’ve been there. I was being thrown with force instead of drifting without gravity.

I crashed into an asteroid and was thrown at another nearby one while the first one broke in half. The second did as well when I hit it. I bounced off and then stopped in the middle as the asteroids. Those four then crashed into each other, breaking in half. They kept colliding and breaking until a bunch of baseball- and basketball-sized pieces banged into me. Finally, one the size of a large dog slammed into me and sent me hurtling through space again. I landed on a small planet, or possibly one of those things Pluto is, and bounced off in further defiance of physics. The next planet I headed for grew a face and a pair of arms. It slapped me between both hands.

The planet on this trip through Disney’s Fantasia planetarium skipped arm day. I’ve taken worse hits. Didn’t even squeeze any organs out of me. The two arms grabbed hold of me from either side. The planet opened its mouth wide, exposing the glowing liquid hot magma. It unleashed a volcanic roar.

“Get some Jupiter!” I yelled back as it lunged for me.

Then I was laying down on the floor of the study, yelling at the ceiling, which looked to be missing a ceiling fan. I noticed books laying around and crawled off a broken chair. I found Max wobbling from side to side with a pencil-thick needle in hand, standing over a woman in a green catsuit who was foaming at the mouth.

“How’d you see through all that?” I asked. “I think I got beat up by a solar system.”

“Oh Gecko. Precious, vanilla Gecko,” Max said. He winked at me, then looked back down at the catsuit woman. “She has the Three Hares on the back in a shade of green barely lighter than the primary coloring.”

I staggered over to confirm it. “Another damn assassin. I think I need to send a message back to the Hares.”

“You’re mad with power and determined to kill them all. What do they have to lose in sending killers after you?” he pointed out. “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Here, help me with the body.”

“She’s still dying,” I said.

“Give it time,” Max said, bending down to grab her by the feet. I took her shoulders and helped, with us stopping in mid-carry for Max to spray some air freshener when she shat herself in the throes of death. Outside, I saw a lot of the rest of the place jumbled up, with Citra and staggering around.

“Where’s Qiang?” I asked her.

She pointed upstairs. “In bed. Are we safe?”

I stopped beside her as we carried the dead woman around and kissed my wife on the cheek. “Safer than those who attacked us.” Then it was off to see to the respectful treatment of the dead.

We dropped the corpse onto a table in Max’s suite while Sam and Holly recovered with some drinks. “What you’ve told me about their isolation and heredity, the Hares’ DNA could provide amazing insight into superpowers as they relate to genetics,” Max observed.

“Plus, you want to do things with her beautiful corpse,” I added.

He patted her boots. “You know I only care about what’s on the inside. Pass me the scalpel?”

I tossed it to him and started cutting the woman free of her clothes for the autopsy. “I guess I’ve been a bit screwed up. They took my memories from me, and they’re mine. But for that brief time, I was clear of every fucked-up thing of my past. It was… clean. I had morals, and ethics, and I think even a conscience. They did it to use me somehow, and then that whole thing. It reminded me of Elizabeth, back in the other world. And a phrase Venus has been using lately.”

“Oh?” Max asked. He stepped closer to start carving into the sternum. “What’s that?”

“I’d rather not say, but it was the closest thing to washing away so much of what keeps me from changing and being better.” I looked down, which had me staring into the eyes of the corpse.

“It’s tempting,” Max commented.

I nodded. “Even for us. Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do to someone is show them another way. A ‘what if?’ scenario.”

“I like to take the wrong lesson from my enemies,” Max said, peering inside the woman’s chest cavity. “They had more of an endgame than killing you. What’s your endgame besides killing them? Right now, you’re like a dog chasing a car. You wouldn’t know what to do with it if you,” he paused and took his hands out of the woman’s chest to pantomime catching something in midair. “Caught it. What do you want the world to look like at the end of this that doesn’t involve you trying to claim you’re a god?”

“Good question,” I leaned on my elbow, looking down into the woman’s eyes, my eyes taking the same turquoise tint.

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The Belly Of The Bunny 9: The Bitch Is Back

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Venus was kind enough to offer me the hospitality of the Master Academy while I waited on my ride. After everything that happened, we all agreed I needed access to as many showers and fresh clothes as possible. Plus, and she didn’t actually state this, I think she was worried about all the laughing I’d been doing. Couldn’t help myself. It kinda had to do with the intersection of Gecko and Tripura. She was so nice, and she was me.

Too bad she had to kill. I just can’t catch a break, even when I don’t know hardly anything. But she killed to save an entire city, except for that part when she murdered someone for being a dick to her. The ratio of assholes to innocents makes it clear how much better a person she was. I could try and argue something about tabula rasa, but most people have really weird ideas about that. Like, they think being born with genetic preferences that can change over time somehow means the mind is born with knowledge. You know, because we should really call a baby’s inborn preference for cinnamon at birth “knowledge”.

Eh, this Earth will grow out of that at some point, maybe realize that a stream bed’s curves determine what path the water travels, but it’s not a stream without the fluid.

This sounds nice, but part of the reason I was tittering to myself so much is my ability to recall the name of that thingy on the table that salt falls out of. A mind is a terrible thing to lose, and now I’ve got mine back. And so many things are being reevaluated that it’s caused me the legitimate giggles, and some instances of laughing to spite the alternative.

It disturbed everyone around Master Academy West. They sat me in a common room with, like dark woods and a tv and books all around. If it was a social spot, it wasn’t after I got there. So I kept staring off into space, comparing memories, reconciling things, and catching up on the news. Like, seriously evolutionary psychologists? A paper about why the Jews are genetically predisposed to dominate the world? No wonder the brownshirts are marching.

In the middle of sitting down, arms around my legs, laughing my head off to myself in a dark room with the lights turned off, I noticed a guy arguing with Venus. “How long is she staying here?”

That snapped me out of my thousand-yard stare. “Hey, stop assuming my-”

“She’s a criminal, a murderer, a- a- I don’t even know what she’s committed so many crimes. And she’s transphobic,” said the teen boy to Venus.

“I’m not transphobic. There are very few people I hate more than I hate almost every one of you damn humans,” I said.

The guy actually responded. “I don’t hear you dropping the N-word or any other racial slurs.” He walked into the room, staring at me. A bit androgynous and chubby, with a wide nose that almost makes me think it’d been smooshed as a kid.

I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap, cradling him with four arms. “It’s ok there. Shh, shh, shh. Let me tell you a little story.”

“Gecko, let him go,” Venus said. I held up a finger.

“Just a quick story and he goes free unharmed, deal?” I asked.

From my lap came the teen, “I’d rather just go if I have any say in this.”

I patted him on the head. “Hush, Venus is speaking for you.”

“You promise not to harm anyone? This is just a story?” she asked.

I nodded a bunch. “I wouldn’t dare hurt the snuggly little Master Academy students here.” I gave the student a shake. The wind picked up in the room and blew some curtains a bit too much to be the AC. “It’s just a brief story of an assassin who learned how to use medical nanomachines to perform reconstructive surgery to alter the assassin’s looks. Colors were easy, adjusting flesh and cartilage as well. Muscles, harder, bones harder still. So many things were changed… face, hair color, eye color, even skin color. And in all that time, nobody who knew the assassin’s identity questioned anything about the assassin’s personality over the fact that the assassin changed appearances so often.”

“That’s not strictly true,” Venus spoke up.

I blew her a raspberry, then continued. “Then one day the assassin grows a bodacious pair of boobs and starts wearing skirts. Suddenly, everybody starts wondering if they should call the assassin something different over THIS change. THIS change was unusual. This change caused them to worry about the assassin’s mental state more than usual.” I chuckled at that part. “The assassin just changes and doesn’t think much of it. The assassin thinks it’s stupid to assume anything off about a person just because they want to be a woman.”

I pushed the teen off my lap. “Story time’s over kid. Now get out of here.”

The tean dusted himself off and looked at me. “Inside, what do you feel you are?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. I’m always just me, no matter what.” I closed my eyes and sat back, hoping they’d get out of my long, beautiful hair.

Venus ushered the teen out, then turned to me. “Maybe it would help you with all your self-loathing. That can be a sign, you know.”

I waved dismissively. “Not all that important right now. But thanks for the tampons and the brief tutorial.” I opened an eye just to wink at her.

“I know about your self-loathing. Do us all a favor and find a version of yourself that’s happier. And just because changing sex isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s a small thing for someone to be made whole on this Earth, you douchecanoe.” Venus crossed her arms as she looked at me.

“If you hate me so much, if the world’s better off without me, why save me?” I asked her, leaning forward, and maybe squeezing the gals a bit for better viewing. She’s not immune to boobs. Hell, these days, the power of boobs reaches far beyond men to all sorts of genders. “Not like anyone there knew what was happening. You could have let me die.”

“We have this talk a lot, but I refuse to go through life believing the best way to solve my problems is to kill everyone,” she said.

I cocked my head to the side, “But isn’t saving me a way of condoning my actions, especially when I kill people like The Claw?”

She shook her head. “Your choices are your choices, but I’ll always hold out hope for you, and I’ll always be here if you want to change. It’s never too late.”

Ugh. It’s like she’s got a psychic around to figure out the best way to annoy me. Oh, right, she’s fucking the only surviving psychic to be in my head. I was more than happy when the Psycho Flyer arrived with an honor guard of soldiers in power armor. We made quite the sight, Psycho Gecko walking up a ramp flanked by Riccan soldiers while a force of Master Academy heroes stood guard.

One long, long, long ass trip later that involved a stopover in Mu for refueling, the Flyer passed right over the military base and landed between the Palace Residence and the Directory Legislature building. The Directors were quite curious to see what all the hub bub was about, and were surprised when the soldiers lined up and I stepped out in my armor. Not a copy, or a replica. Not a Dudebot. Me and my armor.

One of the Directors was pushed by his comrades to come meet me. “Empress, we weren’t aware you were away. We have been denied news and prevented from an audience.” He quickly bowed.

My bow wasn’t so deep, but then I’m the Empress. “It was necessary, unfortunately. If it’s any consolation, I’ve missed y’all too and I’ll be more than happy to provide more information after I meet with my family.”

I maintained a properly dignified dictator-walk until I reached the stairs to the Palace Residence. That was when Qiang got loose and came running down the steps to meet me. I pulled my daughter up in a four-armed hug and carried her up to the top of the stairs where I pulled in Citra, my (politically-motivated) wife. Then Mix N’Max, Silver Shark, everyone I could grab. Even that friend of Qiang’s, Kayla, and her parents who I’ve banged.

I got the 411 inside while snuggling Qiang. Max had a whole presentation lined up, starting with the slide, “Infiltrators, Detainment and Punishment, A Play In Three Parts”

“You may be wondering what we did with Dame, the woman you informed us was made to look like you,” Max said. “First step, identification.” The first slide after the start showed photos of the crowd all photoshopped to wear different clothes. Sam Hain, Max’s assistant, looked very pretty in Citra’s dress. Another slide showed a picture of me labeled “fake” either hugging or kissing.

“Second step, capture,” Max said. The next slide showed Sam’s head pasted to the body of a black lingerie model, perhaps to make it obvious this isn’t Sam’s body. Then a cage falls on the fake me. Then there’s a trapdoor, followed by a picture of an alligator, a school of piranhas, and a train.

“This movie sucks,” I said. “The pacing’s terrible, the acting’s subpar, and what’s with this sound design? Nobody knows how to hold a boom?” Max, ever-present grin on his face, flashed me the middle finger.

I held up one of my own toward him, then made a circle with some fingers and moved it up and down around the middle finger.

“Ahem,” said Holly, the preppier of Max’s assistants. “I worked really hard on this, and would appreciate if you paid attention.”

I didn’t pay much attention to the punishment stuff. More photoshopping, along with stills from movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Passion Of The Christ. “Bottom line,” I asked once we reached the end, “Where is she?”

Max sighed and clicked on to a last slide that said, “TL;DR, she’s in the military base.”

“Thank you,” I said, standing up. I hugged Qiang to myself, then set her down. “I’ll be back in a bit, sweetest of hearts. Mommy has to go see the bad lady.”

And I did. The men, human and Deep One alike, were happy to have me back. They showed me down to a special room, one that’d be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the holding cells. Recently, I’d been the one sitting in a darkened room, with a circle of light. She knelt in the circle, arms and legs held to the floor. She was covered by a thin white dress, barely more than a scrap. I could practically see through it.

I stepped up and pulled out a can of spray cheese. “Wakey, wakey, dearest Dame.”

She looked up wearing a copy of my face. She started to say something, but I filled her mouth with cheese so cheap. I had to find the can in a flop house by the dock where sailors passing helped themselves to a high while they were on the island. “I don’t know how much they’re feeding you. I assume some food’s involved. Wow, I know how to put together a body shape, don’t I?”

She fought to get through the cheese. Since she had nothing to say, I kept on going. “This whole game of spy versus spy and who is better at planning and counterplanning, it’s just needlessly complicated and annoying. Never knowing who to trust… it’s just no fun. So today, I make you a promise. If you cooperate, I won’t kill you. Won’t order you killed or anything like that.”

“Your guards beat the shit out of me every day,” she growled through cheese.

I patted her on the head. “And they’ll stop now because you’re going to be my own personal project.”

Her eyes fluttered and she shook her head. “Whaaaaa-why is everything… doing that?” She looked all around.

I knelt and stroked my lookalike’s hair. “It’s just the nanites, dear. I made sure you only go the best cheese.” I held up the can and shook it, smiling under my mask as if she could see it. Then I sighed. “Not quite so fun knowing what’s going to happen.”

“What are you doing?” she asked, kneeling forward, trying to rest her head on the floor.

I rubbed her head sat beside her, moving her head into my lap as the nanites set to work. “I don’t like where your mind’s at, so I’m changing it. Making a few alterations where I can. Looks like you’ve got that little disease that can inhibit superpowers too, even if you use a gadget for your fun. I had a lot of time on my flight to review everything we know about Unity, the same drug they used to make me thing I wasn’t me. Same drug I bet you were trying to steal from Ricca when they first captured you. Neural pathways to access long-term and short-term memory. Funny thing is, it’s entirely possible to start using these nanites to replace parts of a brain with a, what do you call it, cybernetic alternative. There may be a few hiccups, but that’s why I’m trying this trick on you instead of someone I care about.” Here I felt a little bit of Tripura tug at me. Dame started to scream until I forced her to stop via well-placed nanites.

I leaned in to whisper to Dame. “You know, I felt so normal and innocent there thanks to what your people did to me. Then I get my memory back. All of it. Poor Tripura… but that time gave me so many wonderful ideas about how to deal with you, them, and any other problems that come up. Losing my mind has been incredibly refreshing; I highly recommend it.”

I stood up. “Don’t worry about screaming. You got a mouth, but you won’t be able to. New process like this, I told it to take it’s time. A couple of days and I’m sure whatever you’re feeling will go away. Or you’ll suffer brain damage. Either way, I’ll be back later to pick your brain.” I stopped and waved my hands, jazz hands style. “I’m thinking something old school, maybe wrinkly, but cute and… ya know, pink’s a great color.”

I giggled at her shaking her head and waved it off. “Oh, don’t worry about your silly opinions. I’ll replace those later.”

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